Problems with Patient Counseling in India
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Challenges of Patient Counseling in India

Published on Apr 19, 2019 and last reviewed on Sep 19, 2023   -  4 min read


Every patient is different and the art of convincing the patient to take the right treatment is a challenge that depends upon multiple factors.

Challenges of Patient Counseling in India


Patient counseling is an art, in which every doctor should be skilled. Every patient is different, and the art of convincing the patient to take the right treatment is a challenge that depends upon multiple factors. The dynamics of patient counseling in our country differ significantly from the West. In the West, the patient forms the most important aspect of clinical decision making, his or her right to be informed cannot be violated unless he or she is not medically fit to make decisions.

Despite the same principles being available on paper, they are seldom practiced here. In India, everybody is a decision-maker, citing the reason that they know what is best for the patient. This role is taken usually by the doctor or the primary health care doctor or the relative who accompanies the patient to the clinic, or it could be a distant relative sitting abroad who may or may not have the required medical knowledge.

What Does Patient Counseling Mean?

Patient education involves giving patients the necessary information, support, and expertise that empower them to understand their medical conditions and options for treatment, enabling them to make informed healthcare decisions. It is an essential aspect of healthcare delivery that aims to enhance patient understanding, engagement, and adherence to treatment plans.

Patient counseling is not only about mentioning the prognosis, discussing treatment options, and associated side effects but expressing them in a manner that makes the patient and all accompanying members comfortable and convinced. The most important principle of counseling is convincing them that what you are saying is right. This sometimes implies hiding vital information from the patient on a special request or sometimes from relatives. There are so many patients completing treatment without even being aware of their disease, prognosis, treatment risks, and benefits, only because of one relative who feels that it is best for the patient. Interestingly, this usually works, either the patient gets better, and the truth has less impact or the patient succumbs to the treatment or disease and the truth hardly matters.

Gaining the faith of the patients and their relatives in such a scenario becomes more important than keeping them informed. Sometimes, the simplest of treatment decisions are not so simple or obvious from the patient or relative’s perspective. People often adopt beliefs that match their personal preferences, and this drives many patients towards second and sometimes third opinions. In this chain, it gets difficult for the doctors to get the right advice implemented. If a surgeon recommends surgery, the perception is that the doctor might not be good, so let us take a second opinion from a better surgeon, who might not be a surgeon, to begin with. Amid mistrust and the concept that one doctor is better than another, we sometimes fail to do what is right.

What Are the Challenges of Patient Counseling in India?

Patient counseling in India faces several unique challenges. Here are some of the key issues:

  • Language and Cultural Diversity: India is a diverse country with numerous languages and cultures. Effective patient counseling requires communication in a language the patient understands. Healthcare professionals may encounter language barriers when trying to convey medical information, leading to misunderstandings and ineffective counseling. Additionally, cultural beliefs and practices vary across regions, impacting the way patients perceive and respond to medical advice.

  • Limited Health Literacy: Many individuals in India have limited health literacy, which refers to their aptitude in comprehending and applying medical knowledge and data to arrive at well-informed choices. Patients may lack knowledge about their conditions, treatment options, and preventive measures. This can hinder their ability to follow treatment plans, adhere to medication regimens, and make informed decisions about their health.

  • Time Constraints and Workload: Healthcare professionals in India often face high patient volumes and limited time for each consultation. The pressure to attend to numerous patients within a limited timeframe can compromise the quality and depth of patient counseling. Time constraints may lead to rushed explanations and inadequate patient understanding of their condition, treatment options, and self-care instructions. Adequate staffing, improved time management, and prioritization of patient counseling are necessary to ensure comprehensive care delivery.

  • Doctor-Patient Communication Gap: Due to factors such as hierarchical structures in healthcare settings, and a lack of patient-centered care, doctor-patient communication often falls short. Patients may feel hesitant to ask questions or express their concerns, leading to a lack of understanding about their health conditions and treatment plans. To provide successful patient guidance, it is crucial to create transparent channels of communication and encourage patients to participate actively in their treatment.

  • Traditional and Alternative Medicine Practices: In India, traditional and alternative medicine systems, such as Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani, are deeply ingrained in the culture. Patients may seek advice from traditional healers and use herbal remedies alongside or instead of modern medical treatments. This can present challenges for healthcare professionals in terms of ensuring patients receive evidence-based care and managing potential interactions between traditional remedies and prescribed medications.

  • Limited Access to Healthcare: Accessibility to healthcare services is a significant challenge in India, particularly in rural areas. Many patients face financial constraints, lack of transportation, and long distances to healthcare facilities. This can result in delayed or inadequate medical care, reducing the opportunities for effective patient counseling.

  • Stigma and Social Factors: Certain health conditions in India, such as mental health disorders or sexually transmitted infections, are associated with stigma and taboos. Patients may feel hesitant to seek help or discuss their conditions openly due to fear of discrimination or societal judgment. Healthcare professionals must exhibit empathy, confidentiality, and non-judgmental attitudes to foster trust and encourage open communication.

  • Medication Affordability and Availability: The cost and availability of medications can be a significant challenge in India. Patients may face financial difficulties in procuring prescribed medications, leading to non-adherence or partial adherence to treatment plans. Counseling on medication affordability and exploring alternatives can be crucial in ensuring patient compliance.


Overcoming these challenges requires a patient-centered approach that takes into account the diverse needs and cultural contexts of individuals. By promoting health literacy, improving doctor-patient communication, addressing traditional medicine practices, enhancing access to healthcare, combating stigma, and exploring solutions for medication affordability, healthcare providers can strive to deliver more effective and culturally sensitive patient counseling in India. Ultimately, empowering patients with knowledge and involving them in their care can contribute to better health outcomes and improved overall healthcare experiences.

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Last reviewed at:
19 Sep 2023  -  4 min read




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